The Christmas Beef

This literally has nothing to do with physics, science, or good taste—but it’s funny. It’s a short story that I wrote on a whim during my freshman year of college. I think it’s destined to become a Christmastime classic. Someday, you’ll be watching animated versions of The Christmas Beef on TV with your kids all through December. So, without any further ado, here it is:

The Christmas Beef

Once upon a time, there was a family called the Salisburys. It was a small family; just Mama and Papa Salisbury and their young son, Peter. They lived together in a tiny single-room shack. It was the dirtiest shack in the dirtiest corner of the dirtiest city on the planet. Dirt was piled on the floor, and it sat inside the cupboards, and it flowed out of the faucets. Dirt was really the only thing that the Salisburys had a lot of. If dirt was currency, they would have been richer than kings—but it wasn’t, so they were just poor. To speak bluntly, life was not quite as good as it really could have been for the Salisburys. Things had once been better, but that was ages ago.

Papa Salisbury’s great-grandfather, Philiminster Salisbury, was the inventor of the Salisbury steak. Through a clever marketing scheme, Philiminster became a millionaire, and the Salisbury family lived in luxury. However, Philiminster’s son, Gerald, invested all of his father’s money in some very high-risk stock from a dirt factory. He lost the fortune, but in an ironic twist of fate, his family acquired a very large and seemingly inexhaustible dirt supply. Ever since then, the Salisburys had been caught in a never-ending downward spiral. Each successive generation was worse off than the one before it. By the time that poor little Peter was born, the Salisburys had not only lost their money, but also their good looks and intelligence.

Our story starts in the wintery months of little Peter’s ninth year. Christmas was just around the corner. It was a magical time for everyone. People were bustling about on the streets, buying presents for loved ones. Salvation Army Santa Clauses were filling the air with the sound of bells. Christmas lights were hung everywhere. Snowflakes fell from the sky and hot chocolate was always waiting inside. Well, it was magical for everyone except the Salisburys. They couldn’t exactly afford to buy anything, because dirt still wasn’t worth any money, and the sight of so many other happy people just served to highlight their own unhappy lives. So, all through the Christmas season, the Salisburys just sat inside and moped.

Little Peter’s favorite winter pastime was to make dirt angels. The Salisburys couldn’t afford toys, of course, but they had lots of dirt. So little Peter would go to the dirtiest corner of the shack, pile up the dirt, and lay in it. Then, by waving his arms and legs around, he would make the shape of an angel in the dirt. One day, God happened to look down at Peter’s shack and see one of those little dirt angels. He was so moved by pity that he sent down a real Dirt Angel to look after Peter. Peter couldn’t see his Dirt Angel, of course, but he was always there, watching over little Peter. His name was Horace.

On December 24, as Peter was making a dirt angel in the corner, his mother began to cry. She had been working on making dinner, which was going to be dirtburgers and dirt soup, when suddenly she burst into tears. “What’s the matter?” asked Papa Salisbury. “It’s just that I feel so bad for Peter,” she replied. “He won’t be getting any presents this year, and on top of that, we can’t even afford a decent meal. I wish so badly that we could have some beef so I could make him a real dinner. I wish he didn’t have to eat Prime Dirt tomorrow night while everyone else in the world was eating Prime Rib. If we could just have some beef in the house for him, it would make me happier than anything else in the world.” Peter got up from his dirt pile and hugged his mother.

Later that night, after dinner, when Mama and Papa were asleep in their beds, Peter quietly drew back his dirt comforter and walked outside. He sat down in front of the little shack and thought. He thought long and hard. He wanted his parents to be happy. He wanted to be happy. He was sick of his horrible life and all the misery around him. Finally, in an act of desperation, he yelled out into the cold air, “I wish I was beef! Then Mama would be happy!” At that very instant, Horace stepped out from behind a nearby dumpster. “Who are you?” cried Peter. “I’m Horace,” answered Horace. “I’m a Dirt Angel. I’ve been sent here to watch over you, and I think I can help you out.” The angel took a step forward, genuflected, and knelt down. Then he muttered a low unintelligible prayer. A light shone down from the sky onto Peter, and he suddenly turned into beef. Horace smiled and sped away toward heaven.

When morning came around, Mama and Papa Salisbury climbed out of their dirt bed and looked around. “Where’s Peter?” they both exclaimed at the same time. They quickly searched all twenty square feet of the shack, but he was nowhere to be found. “Maybe he went outside,” thought Mama Salisbury. She opened the door. There, sitting on the ground in front of her, was a nice hunk of raw meat. She brought it inside, confused. “Oh well,” she thought, “I’ll deal with that later.” Mama and Papa searched the neighborhood for hours, but eventually reluctantly admitted that Peter was gone for good.

The day passed in sullen silence until it was time for dinner. After Mama prepared it, she and Papa sat down and said their prayers. “It really is a shame,” said Papa a minute later, in between mouthfuls of succulent beef, “that Peter couldn’t have been here to enjoy this delicious Christmas meal.”